Climate justice begins when we recognize the adverse effects of extreme weather on our communities and the world and advocate to mitigate these costs and damages for all of us. In real time, the climate justice movement highlights the social, public health and economic challenges and costs of adapting to and responding to climate change. This is crucial as it is an inherently social issue that has unequal/inequitable consequences globally, especially for marginalized groups in the urban demographic.
In the United States, from sea level rise and catastrophic flooding to wildfires and hurricanes, low-income residents are the most vulnerable, the least protected and the most alone when these natural disasters strike. This includes decisions made about whether they are housed in comfortable, weatherproof and energy efficient homes. So, as we enter Climate Week, it is important that we address the current housing crisis facing tens of millions of people in our country, which disproportionately affects black and brown residents.
Racial and socio-economic justice is the key to climate action!
The lack of equitable resources for low-income black and brown residents continues to perpetuate an oppressive experience. Low-income residents are too often at risk of displacement, behind on utility bills, experiencing homelessness and facing other housing insecurities.
This year Out of reach: the high cost of housing A report by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), an NRDC ally, describes in stark terms the housing crisis facing our country. Many people cannot afford rent, as you can see in this graph comparing wages in most occupations and the cost of housing (housing wage is defined as the level of hourly income required to rent accommodation currently):
This situation is exacerbated by rising rents over the past year, a driver of the broader price inflation we have all experienced. NLIHC includes a graph in its report showing the spike:
This housing crisis is hindering our victories in the movement for climate justice. According to the NLIHC, “too many people cannot afford rent, which has gone up and is driving up all inflation. The data confirms an urgent need to close the gap between income and housing costs and a need to expand and preserve the supply of affordable rental housing.
Fortunately, there has been a recent federal response to this crisis, with research showing that programs like the U.S. Bailout have reduced eviction rates due to quick work by local and state jurisdictions (see this fact sheet). information from the White House outlining the benefits of such federal responses). However, data from the NLIHC report reveals why people, especially those in poor black and brown communities, are still suffering because for too many, affordable rental housing is out of reach:
Historically, these are the same groups that are too directly affected by displacement, homelessness, eviction, access to affordable housing and basic human rights. Viable solutions to the affordable housing crisis and the intersection of climate justice have been proposed, but long-term political solutions have not solved housing problems. Our public policy process has been ineffective for marginalized groups in urban areas.
Fortunately, several tools are available for officials and agencies to use to deal with the moment of crisis. For example, some current programs and policies like the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and the Fair Housing Positive Advocacy Rule help ensure that developers and landlords foster inclusive communities and do not discriminate against Indigenous peoples. colored blacks (BIPOC).
Solutions that can advance the needle include:
- close the gap between housing costs and resident incomes, and
- expand and preserve the supply of affordable rental housing accessible to people on the lowest incomes.
Additionally, it is crucial to expand emergency rental assistance to households in crisis while strengthening and enforcing tenant protections.
Our country has made remarkable progress in federal politics over the past two years. The Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act provides historic investments in improving transport and water supply infrastructure. And the new Inflation Reduction Act makes historic investments in climate and environmental justice.
The laws also include useful provisions to increase housing affordability. Specifically, the Infrastructure Act includes a one-year, multi-time boost to the Weatherization Assistance Program. And the new climate law includes improvements that our colleague Lauren Urbanek (and Deron Lovaas) talked about here, including an innovative billion-dollar program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
And the reality is that while these important new laws address transportation, water, and climate issues in the moment, they are not enough to meet the huge public investment we need in housing. Opportunity Starts at Home (a coalition of groups that includes the NRDC) made this clear in its statement on the IRA, summarizing:
“Congress has missed an extraordinarily rare opportunity to address one of the main drivers of inflation and a critical problem facing the poorest and most marginalized households: skyrocketing rents and lack of accessibility to housing.
Opportunity Starts at Home advocates substantial investment in three crucial policy solutions:
- housing vouchers,
- public housing, and
- the chronically underfunded National Housing Trust Fund.
It’s unfinished business, or, the next order of business, as we come to the end of two years of landmark legislation by Congress. The NRDC and our partners look forward to working with the Biden administration, HUD, and Congress to address the nation’s housing crisis in 2023 and beyond.